Small Thought On The Terrorist Attack in Paris, France

What the attack in Paris has made clear to me is that there is a deep hatred amongst people against the west. I believe that much of this hatred stems from the same roots from which my discontents with the west had also grown – western interventionist policies with foreign nations. I also sense such discontents among the few people that I know from Pakistan, Nigeria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Morocco, and Serbia.

My displeasures with the west originate from the personal stories of my parents who, before they became victims of the Khmer Rouge, were also victims of American bombings of Cambodia – a fact that is not widely known. The bombardments that started in 1965 ended in 1973, and had killed hundreds of thousands of Cambodians. Indeed, before the Khmer Rouge took power over Cambodia in 1975 and before they sent all people to the rural areas to grow foodstuffs for ‘Angkar’ (the Organization/the State), there were already widespread famines and scores of displaced people due to the bombings. It had created a chaotic climate in which the anti-western, anti-capitalist, and anti-imperialist propaganda of the Khmer Rouge found their way into people’s minds – mostly into the minds of those poor rural Cambodian people that were suffering most from the secret bombings. Ben Kiernan writes in ‘Bombs over Cambodia’ (2004):

Years after the war ended, journalist Bruce Palling asked Chhit Do, a former Khmer Rouge officer, if his forces had used the bombing as antiAmerican propaganda. Chhit Do replied:

“Every time after there had been bombing, they would take the people to see the craters, to see how big and deep the craters were, to see how the earth had been gouged out and scorched . . . . The ordinary people sometimes literally shit in their pants when the big bombs and shells came. Their minds just froze up and they would wander around mute for three or four days. Terrified and half crazy, the people were ready to believe what they were told. It was because of their dissatisfaction with the bombing that they kept on co-operating with the Khmer Rouge, joining up with the Khmer Rouge, sending their children off to go with them. . . . Sometimes the bombs fell and hit little children, and their fathers would be all for the Khmer Rouge.”

Cambodia, together with Laos, still remains one of the heaviest bombed countries in the history of the world.[1] My parents were just 7-8 years old at the advent of the secret bombings. Imagine that a drone would bomb the school of your child or the hospital in which your loved ones are, would you not feel enraged? Would you not want to take revenge on those that are responsible?

A pre-moral person looks at the consequences of the actions. He sees the attacks, he acknowledges the dead, he becomes emotional and judges firmly. A moral person withholds his judgements and attempts to comprehend the causes of the attackers’ actions. I do not want to justify the killings of the French people, but I would like to emphasize that if we were really to honor the victims, we should reflect on the question why there are people that hate the west so fiercely. Maybe our society itself is part of a larger machine that is the origin of foreign hatred against the west. We must not only realize that religious fundamentalism is a danger to the world, but that there is a more contemptible false idol which is democratic fundamentalism – the uncritical acceptance that democracy is equal to liberty, that it is always superior and that, if necessary, it should be spread with violence.

As long as we, as a society, fail to reflect on ourselves and the political system we participate in, we will never find a fundamentally peaceful solution.

[1] See Ben Kiernan’s ‘Bombs Over Cambodia: New Light On US Air War

Guantanamo: A Conservative Moral Blind Spot

A current Guantanamo detainee, Mohamedou Slahi, just published a book about his ordeal. The book is redacted of course but it still tells an arresting story.

M. Slahi was captured in 2000. He has been held in detention, mostly at Guantanamo prison since 2002 but in other places too . The motive was that he supposedly helped recruit three of the 9/11 hijackers and that he was involved in other terror plots in the US and Canada (unidentified plots.).

According to CNN:

Slahi admits to traveling to Afghanistan to fight in the early 1990s, when the US. was supporting the mujahedin in their fight against the Soviet Union. He pledged allegiance to al Qaeda in 1991 but claims he broke ties with the group shortly after.

He was in fact never convicted. He was not even formally charged with anything. Slahi has spent 13 years in custody, most of his young adulthood. If he is indeed a terrorist, I say, Bravo and let’s keep him there until the current conflict between violent jihadists and the US comes to an end. Terror jihadists can’t plant bombs in hotels while they are in Guantanamo. And, by the way, I am not squeamish about what those who protect us must do to people we suspect of having information important to our safety. I sometimes even deplore that we do to them is not imaginative enough. And, I think that the recent allegations to the effect that torture produces nothing of interest are absurd on their face.

But what if the guy is an innocent shepherd, or fisherman, or traveling salesman found in the wrong place? What if he is a victim of a vendetta by the corrupt police of his own country who delivered him over? What if he was simply sold to our intelligence services? What if, in short, he is has no more been involved in terrorism than I have? The question arises in Slahi’s case because the authorities had thirteen years to produce enough information, from him and from others, to charge him. They can’t even give good reasons why they think he is a terrorist in some way, shape or form. It shouldn’t be that hard. If he so much as lend his cellphone to a terrorist I am for giving him the longest sentence available. or simply to keep him until the end of hostilities (perhaps one century).

And if having fought in Afghanistan and having pledged allegiance to Al Qaeda at some point are his crimes, charge him, try him promptly even by a military commission, or declare formally, publicly that he is a prisoner not protected by the Geneva Conventions, because he was caught engaged in hostile action against the US while out of uniform and fighting for no constituted government. How difficult can this be?

I am concerned, because, as a libertarian conservative, I am quite certain that any government bureaucracy will usually cover its ass in preference to doing the morally right thing. (The American Revolution was largely fought against precisely this kind of abuse.) Is it possible that the Pentagon or some other government agency wants to keep this man imprisoned in order to hide their mistakes of thirteen years ago? I believe that to ask the question is to answer it.

This kind of issue is becoming more pressing instead of vanishing little by little because it looks like 9/11 what just the opening course. It looks like we are in this struggle against violent jihadism for the long run. Again, I am not proposing we go soft on terrorism. I worry that we are becoming used to government arbitrariness and mindless cruelty. I suspect that conservatives are often conflating their dislike of the president’s soft touch and indecision about terrorism with neglect of fairness and humanity. I fear we are becoming less American.

Let me ask again: What if this man, and some others in Guantanamo, have done absolutely nothing against us?

Of course, I hope the US will keep Guantanamo prison open as long as necessary. In fact, I expect fresh planeloads of real terrorist from Syria and Iraq to come in soon. I really hope that Congress will have the intestinal fortitude to call President Obama’s bluff on closing the prison. Congress has the means to stop it if it wants to.

I Agree with Obama on Guantanamo but….

I agree with President Obama. It’s unacceptable that we, the US, have kept people as prisoners for as long as ten years without trial or any other procedure that could conceivably result in their release or conviction.

Let me say first that it’s not an issue of toughness or not toughness. I, for one, think it’s ridiculous to invoke the Geneva Conventions to protect people who burn women and children alive and who assassinate while wearing  civilian clothing. I am also in favor of making their lives difficult, of increasing the hardship of doing their disgusting job any way we can. That would include making a public announcement that specific individuals may be volatilized from the sky anytime, any place. That sure would create a circle of isolation around them. I would also be in favor of including an option to surrender and be investigated (by us.) I don’t understand why this option does not already exist.

There are three purposes for keeping people locked up. One is  to secure them while they await trial. The lock-up time in this case should be as short as technically possible. The second reason is that they are serving a prison term, a punishment imposed  after a conviction of guilt in a well-described, appropriate procedure.

The third reason  to prevent people from leaving is to keep them out of any situation where they can hurt others. Thus, the classical treatment of prisoners of war is to secure them until there is peace. No punishment ought to be intended. In fact, there is international agreement that such prisoners should be treated the same as the soldiers of the nation detaining them. Again, to punish people, you have to try them formally and to find them guilty of something. That’s true even if the accused are prisoners of war, for example. A prisoner of war may also be guilty of crimes. The two issues are separate. A civilized society should not allow its collective judgment to drift from one situation to the other.

I often hear comments among my fellow conservatives that obscure the existence of a line separating the task of punishing terrorists from the mission to keep them out of our harm’s way. I also hear an absence, the absence of realization that the issue if not one of some Middle-Eastern strangers’ – many of whom openly hate us – rights. It’s about our rights. (It always is, in the final analysis.) Confinement to a small space open has not chosen is experienced as  punishment regardless of intent.  It’ s even the most severe punishment several other civilized societies have. I agree with President Obama that we should not punish severely individuals who may be completely innocent. They may be people who are no more guilty of violence against the United States and against Americans than I am. (Repeat this sentence. Make th”I” yourself.” )

I suspect many of my fellow conservatives believe in their hearts that those detained by American forces because they are suspected of terrorism must be at least a little guilty, or guilty of something. Of course, there is no such thing as being a little guilty in our legal tradition. The idea belongs in totalitarian societies.

If we need to control  some people’s movements for the third reason, to prevent from from doing us harm, in a war that may never end, we owe it to ourselves  as a nation to develop inventive solutions that don’t confuse our need to be safe with the imposition of undeserved punishment. I can think of two such solutions .

We could develop a place to keep them that does not resemble prison except that it should be guarded from intrusion by outside forces. High-tech surveillance methods on the periphery of such a place connected to  missiles, for example come to mind. I am thinking of a sort of armed Club Fed. It could even be a Guantanamo Two, a decent resort where the detainees could lead a life more closely approximating normal life. Inside the resort, they would govern themselves as befit people who are not in jail or prison. There is no reason why they couldn’t have a normal family life with spouses and children. I can hear some already snickering about the cost of such a scheme. It’ s extremely unlikely that it would be more expensive to maintain than the highest security jail this country has ever had. It would also be less expensive than war, any kind of war.

There is another, a sort of libertarian solution to the problem of neutralizing those we suspect of wishing to do us harm.  We could try to free them  on bail. Let me explain: There are millions of individuals around the world and thousands of organizations who profess to be terminally disgusted by the very existence of Guantanamo prison. Among the latter are hundreds of Muslim non-government organizations (NGOs). Some of the latter have thousands and tens of thousands of  members. The US government could negotiate the transfer of custody to private NGOs of inmates who have been held for several years and who are not slated to be tried. The US government could ask for a vertiginous bail amount, millions or even billions of dollars per inmate so transferred. The bail money would be refunded after  a determined number of years (say, when the detainee reaches a certain age) if the detainee had not been killed or recaptured in the process of conducting or of supporting terrorist activities.

Either some would take up this offer of privatization of custody or not. If the offer were taken, we would at least have put some distance between us and the practical problems of dealing with people we think dangerous. (This includes, as I write, the horror of force-feeding.) Relapses of terrorists would become more publicized than they are now, less subject to the constant suspicion that the US is manipulating appearances.  At the very least, if there was no no rush to adopt Guantanamo detainees, it would be nice to point  out the hypocrisy of our critics.

This Is What A Dissident Looks Like

I am anti-war, but I take a great interest in the affairs of other peoples, especially ones who live under dictatorships. I am frequently in touch with many activists around the world and believe wholeheartedly into putting my meager resources to good work when it comes to delegitimizing regimes.

Below is a Facebook message a friend sent to me after I asked him to write for an arts and culture webzine I edit: Continue reading